This past weekend after watching the Clippers lose to the Grizzlies and Pelicans, I was watching Season 2 of Netflix's Daredevil (highly recommend), and that one scene between Daredevil and The Punisher really resonated with me. I think the Clippers as a team are tired. Tired physically. Tired mentally. Tired emotionally. Tired spiritually. Just tired.
Last night's loss against Golden State was their 3rd loss in a row, and totaled their 7th defeat in their last 10 games. But more importantly, last night totaled the 40th straight game that Blake Griffin has missed. 40 games. And with no concrete time table on the horizon, it's pretty safe to assume the Clippers will play more games without the Flyin Lion this season than with.
Bill Simmons popularized something called the "Ewing Theory" where a team inexplicably ends up playing better without their team's star athlete. For the first 20 games without Blake, the Clippers were 16-4, seemingly giving confirmation to The Sports Guy. Their torrid stretch without Blake, whom I deemed the best Clippers going into the season, sparked many to contemplate the popular, yet misguided, hypothesis that the team was somehow better off without Blake. There was more spacing on the court, the defense was climbing the efficiency rankings, and the bench mob led by Pablo and Cole seemed like a cohesive unit.
While Simmons has a lot of crackpot takes, I think there is some merit to this one. When a star goes down, I buy-in to the notion that teammates put an extra amount of focus and drive into each game, knowing that their margin for error has shrunk dramatically. Call it biological -- in times of crisis, your body shifts into a higher gear with increased attention and ability in order to compensate. Think of college, and if you're anything like me, Finals period consisted of back-to-back(to sometimes back) all-nighters to study and write papers; even if it's not good for your body or health, you can flip the override switch to make the impossible happen. The problem comes right after you finish that exam or turn in that paper, when you can finally relax and your body can take the time to feel all of the rigors and effects you placed on it -- you come crashing back down.
Now think of the Clippers. You lose Blake to a quad injury, but for the next 15 games or so you know you can compensate; you've done it in previous seasons when Paul or Griffin have been injured. But then comes Toronto, Testi, and Punchgate, and you're left with the sudden realization that you're going to be without your star for another 4-6 weeks. You try and ratchet back up the energy and tell yourself, just make it to All-Star week. Then you come back and Blake still isn't there and the schedule is starting to get a lot harder and other key role players go out injured. No longer are you playing sub-500 teams, but real contenders, and on the road, and on plenty of back-to-backs. The heightened level of play you forced upon yourself to fill the 6'10" hole on your team is getting harder and harder to reach and your body isn't responding the same way. The miles have taken their toll. You've lost any shot at the 3 seed, and thus are seemingly stuck in purgatory of the NBA season where nothing you do really matters anymore. "Then it hit me. All of it, you know." You're exhausted and you drop games you shouldn't, especially to teams like the Grizzlies and Pelicans that barely can field NBA rosters.
This is how I see the state of the Clippers. They're played 70 games, 40 without Blake, and they're running on empty.
With 12 games left in the regular season, and the 4th seed seeming inevitable, now is the time for Doc Rivers to start trying to remedy that situation. For all of the flack Doc gets for his rotations and playing all-bench units, it appears he's been trying to address this situation. Paul, Jordan, and Redick are all averaging about the least amount of minutes per game of their Clipper tenure under Doc. But it's not just the number of minutes played, it's the quality of minutes (a huge topic at the MIT SLOAN Sports Analytics Conference this year). Without Blake, the burden on each of the other Core 4 members has increased. Paul and Redick's usage rates are considerably higher this season compared to any other Clipper season. CP3's usage rates for assists is up, Redick's for points is up, and Jordan's for rebounds. Each is doing more than they ever have before, and it's taking a toll.
Counting tonight, the Clippers have 5 more SEGABABAs (second games on back-to-backs) left in their remaining 12 games. Counting tonight, I don't think Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, DeAndre Jordan, or Paul Pierce should be playing in any of them (or the first game of them, it doesn't really matter). Doc needs to go full Pop and prioritize rest as the most important thing heading into the playoffs. The only caveat should be when, and if Blake comes back, it would be nice to have the starters play together in order to reestablish their rhythm.
Doc has always preached it's about playing your best ball heading into the playoffs, and right now that means not playing ball at all.